The Hop Garden
The Hop Garden launched in early 2014.
In craft beer, all things hoppy will sell. The IPA and double IPA are the fastest growing styles today, and brewers joke about an arms race to see who can get the most out of hops to achieve higher and higher levels of International Bitterness Units, or IBUs. Such bold beers loaded up on many different types of hops can be a mish-mash of intense spicy, resiny-pine, and citrus aromas and flavors. But when a beer features only a single variety, in all its glory, the result can be surprisingly straightforward in terms of what that hop brings to the party.
Rich Joseph who owns The Hop Garden, a farm near Belleville, is unabashed in his love of hops. He works with House of Brews owner and brewmaster Page Buchanan to produce a line of beers marketed under the Hop Garden brand. Their latest is Nuggetopia, which is made exclusively with nugget hops grown in Wisconsin. It's a window into how an individual variety of hop can lend beer a singular character.
What is it? Nuggetopia from The Hop Garden of Belleville, Wisconsin.
Style: The India pale ale (IPA) emphasizes the bitterness of hops, which can provide herbal, citrus and piney character to both aroma and flavor. IPAs are medium-bodied and often golden- to copper-colored. They range from 5.5% to 7.5% ABV. When all or at least the majority of the hops used to make an IPA are varieties grown in the United States, it's given the "American" IPA distinction.
Background: Nuggetopia has its roots in Rich Joseph's homebrewing recipes. "I really like nugget hops," he says. "I've been brewing with them at home and growing them for years. Nuggets are known for both herbal aroma and their bittering qualities. They're widely grown in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Oregon. However, all of the hops in Nuggetopia come from Joseph's own land. "They grow very well here and have large cones, so we get good yields," he says.
Nugget hops are the only variety used in this beer, hence its name. "I hope folks have a few sips and full into nuggetopia," laughs Joseph.
The hops that go into Nuggetopia were grown a year ago, and then processed into pellets by the Wisconsin Hop Exchange, a growers" cooperative in southern Wisconsin that Joseph helps coordinate. In the future, as his own hop acreage expands, Joseph says he's planning to make a seasonal fresh-hop version of Nuggetopia following the autumn harvest.
Overall, six additions of nugget hops go into this beer while it's being made, including three during a dry-hopping process to lend more aromatic character to the beer. Altogether, about one-and-a quarter pounds are used to produce each barrel. "It's the first beer we've made with a single hop variety, but we'll be making others," says Joseph. Next up could be one featuring Wisconsin-grown Cascade hops, provided this year's local harvest lives up to expectations.
"I'm not trying to just make bitter beers, I want to make beers that showcase hops," explains Joseph, who seems to enjoy working with other farmers in the cooperative as much as making beer. Over the winter months, he often delivers educational programs to anyone who's interested in starting their own hop acreage. He also serves on the board of the Wisconsin Hop Exchange. "Beer is more interesting when you get to know the ingredients -- it's a lot like cooking," notes Joseph.
The Hop Garden launched its own beer brand earlier this year in partnership with House of Brews, but Joseph hops to eventually establish his own brewery at the farm near Belleville. In addition to Nuggetopia, his current lineup of beers also includes Local Harvest Pale Ale and Bushel Basket IPA. Fans of the pale ale should make note that a name and label change is planned for later this fall, but its recipe is expected to remain the same.
Nuggetopia is brewed and bottled at the House of Brews on Madison's east side, and is the Hop Garden's best seller. It's available in single 22-ounce bomber bottles for $6-8, and finishes at 55 IBUs and 7.5% ABV.
- Aroma: A light, floral-piney, hoppy nose.
- Appearance: An orange-copper color with a slight haze; a thick, soft, light tan head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, bubbly with a slight softness.
- Taste: A light malt-forward flavor, before the firm spicy bitterness takes over. There is also a hint of dry-pepper-like spice to the hoppy background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Mild, yet a firm bitter dryness that lingers.
Glassware: The Willi Becher is a great glass for Nuggetopia as it focuses the hop aromas under the nose.
Pairs well with: Entrees with some mild heat/spice. For cheeses, try Nuggetopia with a well-aged goat cheese, or a sharp cheddar.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Nuggetopia gushes with Nugget flavor. This isn't a huge-aggressive bitter beer, but it does offer plenty of nugget hop character with herbal, earthy and spicy flavor. I really enjoy single variety-hopped beers because they inform the palate about what a specific hop can taste like, so I'm looking forward to future installments of Joseph's single-hop series. I even have plans to do side-by-side comparisons.
Nuggetopia is also a beer that homebrewers who have used Nugget hops themselves can appreciate. Single-hopped beers may not have the complex layers of bitterness found in bolder IPAs and double IPAs, but then again, that's not what they are. Rather, these brews should be a solid representation of that one hop. In the case of Nuggetopia, it should leave drinkers with the impression of "Oh yeah, that's what nuggets taste like!" Rich Joseph has created a distinctive entry on the crowded shelf of IPAs, and a beer that shows off Wisconsin's growing commitment to local hops.